WASHINGTON — Joe Biden took a slim lead in Pennsylvania and edged ahead Georgia with the fate of the presidency remaining unknown and five closely watched states continuing to count ballots more than two days after polls closed.
The contest in Pennsylvania, which has 20 Electoral College votes, remains too close to call, according to NBC News.
But Biden is leading the Keystone State with 3,295,304 votes (49.4 percent) to Trump's 3,289,717 (49.3 percent) and about 130,000 uncounted ballots, many of which come from Democratic-leaning areas.
In Georgia, Biden has 2,449,582 votes (49.4 percent) to Trump's 2,338,485 (49.4 percent) with about 8,000 uncounted ballots.
The unresolved election stoked tensions as voters — who turned out in record numbers — seek resolution of a campaign marked by intensifying polarization and a global pandemic that counts the president among its stricken.
President Donald Trump continues to fight for his re-election by trying to generate unfounded fears about the tabulation process. His campaign filed multiple lawsuits, several of which have already been thrown out, and more are expected. Trump fired off all-capital-letter tweets demanding that officials halt counting and leave ballots uncounted in places where analysts think the remaining votes favor Democrats.
In brief remarks Thursday afternoon, Joe Biden said that sometimes democracy is messy and requires patience, but he urged calm and said, "The process is working."
"Each ballot must be counted," he said, standing at a podium flanked by American flags. "We have no doubt that when the count is finished, Sen. Harris and I will be declared the winners."
Later Thursday, Trump appeared at the White House in a speech to erroneously claim victory and to repeat a variety of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Virtually all the claims Trump made about the state of the race were false.
Trump alleged a vast conspiracy by hundreds of state and local election officials across the country, who he falsely claimed were all Democrats, even though many of them are Republicans and some of who he has personally endorsed.
"There's been a lot of shenanigans and we can’t stand for that in our country," Trump said, without offering any specific evidence, adding that he hoped judges would intervene. He took no questions from the press.
Biden appears to hold the stronger position as officials work through the backlog of uncounted ballots, many of which come from Democratic-leaning areas, although the margins are close and Trump ultimately may overtake him.
Trump needs to win at least four of the five outstanding states — Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, all of which are too close to call, according to NBC News — to secure re-election. Biden needs to win only Pennsylvania or a combination of any two others.
Officials have long warned that it might take days to have results because of an unprecedented surge in mail-in ballots, which were used to curtail the spread of Covid-19, and that the race was closer than pre-election polls predicted.
"As we've been stating for weeks and months ... it's going to take time," said Gabriel Sterling, a top elections official in Georgia. "These close elections require us to be diligent and make sure we do everything right."
Some states may be headed for recounts, but past recounts have rarely changed results.
Attention shifted to the battle for the Senate, control of which could be determined by a January runoff election in Georgia.
Both of the state's Senate seats were on the ballot this year, and one of them is already headed to a runoff, according to NBC News, while the other may be, too, if Republican Sen. David Perdue stays below the 50 percent threshold needed to win outright under state law.
Purdue was just shy of the mark at 49.9 percent of the vote Thursday afternoon, with some votes outstanding from the state's Democratic-leaning cities.
Of the five yet-to-be called states, it's unclear which will have results first and when.
North Carolina, however, will almost certainly be last to report, because the state accepts mail-in ballots until next week, Nov. 12.
In Nevada and Arizona, where Biden leads, votes have been trickling in slowly as officials say they are more concerned with accuracy than speed. Nine out of 10 uncounted ballots in Nevada come from Clark County, the Democratic stronghold that is home to Las Vegas, according to the secretary of state.
It's a similar story in Pennsylvania, where Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said Thursday evening that she expects the overwhelming majority of ballots to be processed by Friday, with several hundred thousand outstanding.
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, predicted earlier on MSNBC that uncounted ballots would "probably" allow Biden to close his deficit with Trump and then surpass him, because much of the outstanding vote comes from Philadelphia and other blue areas.
Results were delayed in Allegheny County, which covers the Pittsburgh area, because of a court order that prevents 29,000 ballots from being handled or processed until 5 p.m. ET Friday after a technical issue.
NBC News continues to characterize the race in Pennsylvania as "too close to call," with Trump's lead having been narrowed to about 108,000 votes Thursday and many votes uncounted in the state's biggest cities.
A vote-counting center in downtown Philadelphia has become the center of clashes between police and pro-Trump protesters on one side, who have demanded entry to the building, and anti-Trump protesters on the other, who marched late into the night Wednesday demanding that every vote be counted.
Trump campaign officials held news conferences outside the building, predicting victory and raising baseless allegations of impropriety, while a state court rejected a GOP lawsuit claiming that representatives were improperly barred from observing Philadelphia's vote-counting operations.
Tensions have been running high with some protests across the country, although so far none of the widespread violence and intimidation some feared has materialized.
The top election official in Nevada's largest county told reporters that his office is taking extra security precautions.
"I am concerned for the safety of my staff," Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria told reporters. "We will not allow anyone to stop us from doing what our duty is in counting ballots."
While the Electoral College is all that matters in control of the White House, Biden has a clear and growing lead in the national popular vote, 72.3 million, or 50.5 percent, to Trump's 68.5 million, or 47.9 percent.
Still, even if they win the White House, Democrats are just beginning to confront the reality that they came up short further down.
Democrats lost key Senate races and potential control of the chamber with it, although NBC News has not yet made a determination on Senate control, while their House majority was narrowed by unexpected losses.
And in losses that will potentially reverberate for the next 10 years, Democrats came up short in several key state legislative races they were targeting, which would have given them more control over the once-a-decade redistricting process.
"We held the House. Joe Biden is on a clear path to be the next president of the United States," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told members of the House Democratic Caucus on a call Thursday. "This has been a life-or-death fight for the very fate of our democracy. We did not win every battle, but we did win the war."